Wyuta Wreck

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This page was last updated on November 7, 2018.

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Wyuta is a retired station at mile post 921.75, in Wyoming, just one mile east of the Utah-Wyoming state line, which is at mile post 922.83. The top of the well-known Wasatch grade is at Wahsatch, Utah, at mile post 927.08, approximately five miles farther west.

The fatal wreck at Wyuta in 1951 was the reason UP went to cab signal indication, known both as Coded Cab Signals (CCS) and Automatic Cab Signals (ACS). There was a ground blizzard that obliterated the trackside signals, so cab signals might have prevented the accident.

One locomotive, C&NW E7A 5007B, was destroyed in the accident, and was sent as a direct trade in to EMD on UP E8A 925.

Three passenger cars were destroyed because of the wreck. These were the three trailing cars on the City of Los Angeles train.

"American Lake" was a Pullman sleeper, wrecked on November 12, 1951 at Wyuta, Utah; retired in December 1951.

"Pacific Empire" was a Pullman sleeper, wrecked on November 12, 1951 at Wyuta, Utah; scrapped in 1953.

"Royal Crest" was a New York Central observation car leased to Union Pacific and operated on the City of Los Angeles in 1951; wrecked when hit from behind by the City of San Francisco at Wyuta, Wyoming, on November 12, 1951.

The Pullman sleeper Samuel Vaughn Merrick replaced Royal Crest in its lease to Union Pacific. The change was planned as early as November 7th (five days before the Wyuta wreck) and was to replace California Republic.

Samuel Vaughn Merrick to UP for City of Los Angeles service beginning on November 26, 1951, replacing "Royal Crest," which had in-turn replaced "California Republic" which was bad-ordered and redrawn from service in April 1951.

"Omaha - Nov 7, 1951 - Pullman will replace obs slpr Royal Crest in 21st COLA first WB trip from Chgo Trn 103 Nov 23rd and first EB trip from LA trn 104 Nov 26th with Samuel Vaughn Merrick, capacity 1 dbl bdrm, 2 droom, 1 compt, buffet obs, which will remain in this trn until further notice. C. J. Collins UNPAC" "bcc: Mr. A. D. Hanson - Omaha - The Samuel Vaughn Merrick is an observation sleeper with all Streamliner accessories and is similar to the Royal Crest which is being withdrawn for service in the ROYAL PALM between Chicago and Miami. This sleeper is operating in the 21st train in lieu of the California Republic which went bad order earlier this year and was withdrawn by the Pullman Company." (Union Pacific internal letter dated November 7, 1951)

The freight train on the adjacent track was being pulled by a three-unit diesel locomotive, numbered 1475, a new EMD F7A.

Railway Age, November 19, 1951

From Railway Age, Volume 131, November 19, 1951, page 13:

Two Streamliners in Rear End Collision

In a rear end collision November 12, the Union Pacific's "City of Los Angeles" streamliner was struck by the following "City of San Francisco" at Wyuta (Wyoming-Utah state line). The accident resulted in the death of at least 16 passengers and crew-memhers and serious injuries to seven others. Minor injuries were sustained by 48 persons. most of whom were aboard the "City of Los Angeles."

The accident occured in what the U.P. has described as a "ground blizzard." Visibility was very poor and driving snow accumulated on block signal lenses obscuring the indications.

A company spokesman told Railway Age the eastbound "City of Los Angeles" initially stopped at a signal west of Wyuta while a freight train headed into Wyuta siding to clear both the "City of Los Angeles" and the "City of San Francisco" which was following about 10 minutes behind. The "City of Los Angeles", proceeded after the freight had cleared but the next block signal (at Wyuta) was so badly obscured by driven snow that the engineer found it necessary to stop to determine its aspect before proceeding. The engineer had just established that it was "clear" and had opened the throttle to first position when his train was struck from behind by the following "City of San Francisco." The impact of the crash virtually destroyed the last four cars of the leading train, the three-unit diesel locomotive of the "City of San Francisco," and a number of cars in the freight on the passing siding.

At Railway Age press time, the official toll was 16 known dead, but several persons were reported missing and it was possible that other victims would be found as wreckage was cleared. Leakage of diesel fuel hampered clearance operations by precluding use of acetylene torches.

U.P. President A. E. Stoddard issued a statement at noon November 13, portions of which follow:

"The safety chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission in Washington, D. C.. and other government officers have been notified of the accident and an investigation will begin at a place to be selected by the commission as soon as word is received from Washington.

"At the present time we do not know what caused the accident. The one man who may have the answer is John Brandstitter, fireman on the 'City of San Francisco' and the only surviving member of the locomotive crew whose train plowed into the rear

Railway Age, March 10, 1952

From Railway Age, Volume 132, March 10, 1952, page 108:

Report on Accident At Wyuta, Wyo.

Failure to operate the following train in accordance with signal indications was the cause of the rear-end collision between two Union Pacific streamliners which occurred November 12, 1951, at Wyuta, Wyo. That is the finding of a report by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which also said that "adequate flag protection was not provided for the preceding train."

The report followed through to recommend that the U.P. extend its automatic cab-signal system to the unequipped 314 miles of its 990-mile line between Ogden, Utah, and Omaha, Neb. The accident occurred about 71 miles east of Ogden on one of the unequipped sections, which is the 176-mile segment between Ogden and Green River, Wyo.
The next 251 miles eastward from Green River to Laramie, Wyo., are equipped. Then there is an unequipped section of 56 miles between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyo., from which an equipped segment extends 425 miles eastward to Columbus, Neb. The 82-mile section between Columbus and Omaha is now unequipped, but installation work there is already under way.

The commission's report, No. 3443. was by Commissioner Patterson, and the investigation out of which it came was conducted by the Bureau of Safety. Eleven passengers and six employees were killed in the accident, and 142 passengers and 17 employees were injured.

The "following train" was No. 102, the "City of San Francisco," and the "preceding train" was No. 104, the "City of Los Angeles." Both were eastbound, and No. 102 was traveling about 77 m.p.h. when it run into No. 104, which had just got started after having been stopped so its enginemen could determine the indication of a signal. Also involved was a freight train, which was in the clear on a siding, but it was struck by derailed equipment of the streamliners.

In Snowstorm

The accident occurred in the forenoon (11:27 a.m.), but heavy wet snow was falling at the time; and lenses of the signals were covered with ice and snow. The signals are equipped with hoods which serve as snow shields, but "when wet snow is blown directly against the lenses, ... as it was on the day of the accident, the snow shields are not effective in preventing the snow from covering the lenses ... " the report said.

U.P. trains running under such conditions were governed by this operating rule: "In foggy or stormy weather, engines must approach all signals with great care, stopping if necessary to determine the indication."

The signals are automatic, of the three-indication, color-light type; and they are approach lighted. Signals 9242, 9224, and 9214, governing eastbound movements, are located, respectively, 2.55 mi. west, 4,157 ft. west, and 1,386 ft. east of the point of collision.

The point from which No. 104 was getting started was short of signal 9214, so that train was still occupying the block of signal 9224. That signal, therefore, displayed a red aspect for train No. 102, and signal 9242 displayed a yellow aspect. The latter called for an immediate reduction in speed to 20 m.p.h., "and as much slower as necessary in order to be able to stop before passing the next signal."

No. 102, as the report put it, "passed signals 9242 and 9224 and while traveling at a speed of 77 m.p.h. it struck the rear end of No. 104." When the signal system was tested after the accident, it functioned properly.

No. 104 was a 12-car train, while No. 102 had 13 cars. All of the cars were of "lightweight steel" construction. Each train was hauled by a three-unit diesel-electric locomotive.

The collision derailed all cars of No. 104. and "demolished" the three rear cars which were two sleepers and an observation-sleeper. The eighth and ninth cars (sleepers) were "badly damaged" while the other seven cars included four that were "somewhat damaged" and two that were "slightly damaged."

All equipment of No. 102, except its rear car and the rear truck of the twelfth ear, was derailed. The three diesel units, the first car (a mail car), and the fifth to ninth cars, inclusive, were "badly damaged," those, cars haying been a coach, two diners, a lounge car, and a sleeper.

The freight train on the siding consisted of a three-unit diesel and 90 cars. The thirty-sixth to forty-third cars, inclusive, were derailed when struck by the derailed cars of the streamliners.

The engineman of No. 102 and a maintainer, who was also on that engine, were among the employees killed. The control compartment of that train's first diesel unit "was so badly damaged ... that the position of the controls at the time the accident occurred could not be determined," the report said.

It went on to summarize evidence indicating how the signal indications had become obscured by the formations of snow and ice. It was because No. 104's engineman "could not see a light" in signal 9214 that they had stopped their train short of that signal.

The rear flagman of this train was killed and the commission's investigators found "no surviving witness" who could testify as to what action that flagman took. He was seen on the rear car by the flagman of the freight train when the streamliner passed the siding's west switch, which is 4,083 ft. short of the point of collision.

The fireman of No. 102 survived. He stated that he did not see the aspects of either signal 9242 or 9224, but that both the engineman and the maintainer "called each signal as indicating 'proceed.'" He "assumed that they could see through the windshield from the right side of the control compartment more distinctly than he could see from the left side."

Meanwhile, he "did not observe a fusee or hear the explosion of a torpedo." And he also said that, because of track curvature and the presence of the freight train on the siding, he and his associates on No. 102's engine did not see a red oscillating light on the rear of No. 104, "until they were closely approaching the rear of that train." The engineman made an emergency application of the brakes "immediately after the light became visible," the fireman also testified.

"Weather conditions similar to those which prevailed on the day of the accident are not unusual along the line of this carrier in this vicinity," the commission said in leading up to its recommendation that cab signals be installed.

"If a cab-signal system had been in service it is probable that this accident would have been averted," the report added.

Newspaper Stories

Newspaper items about the wreck. -- Digital images of newspaper stories about the wreck at Wyuta.